Since I now live in Canada, I attended the Canadian Youth Workers Convention in Toronto. Here is my brief reflection of the experience at CYWC:
Small. The youth ministry tribe in Canada is much smaller in number than our American counterparts (the entire population of Canada is less than the population of California, so this shouldn't be a surprise), so the convention attendance was in the hundreds, as opposed to the thousands. The bookstore, the big meeting room, the stage setup, the number of volunteers needed--it was all smaller than the NYWC. And that's a good thing. Bigger isn't necessarily better. Small meant that I can recognize familiar faces in the crowd after only a few days. Small meant that I could get from my hotel room to the big room to a workshop without feeling like I'd be trampled. Small meant less polished and more laid back. Small meant intimate. I was able to meet and interact with many of the speakers and workshop leaders at the convention, as well as dozens of new youth ministry friends.
Canadian. Canada has its own unique culture, values, and ethos that makes youth ministry in Canada different than the United States or United Kingdom. While many American youth ministry experts were the keynote speakers, I greatly benefited from the Canadian voices who were in the trenches and ministering from a Canadian context. Every province has its own unique culture too; youth ministry in British Columbia looks and feels different than Manitoba, Ontario, or Nova Scotia. (Side note: as an American living and ministering in Canada, I am learning a great deal about humbly striving to understand Canadian culture. The American speakers who didn't know about Canadian culture gave a negative vibe, compared to the encouragement from those who humbly admitted their American-ness and desire to relate to Canadians.) It's a Canadian convention, with a Canadian ethos and vibe.
Camaraderie. The definition of camaraderie is "mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together." The small tribe of Canadian youth workers feel like they are in this together. The nation of Canada is a spiritually dark place; the youth workers and churches are small lights piercing through that darkness, offering beacons of hope. I love being able to lock arms with this family of youth ministry folks.
- Paul Brandt. I'm not a big fan of country music, and had no idea who Paul Brandt was before this convention, but I'm a fan now. The Canadian country star's story was so deeply authentic, humble, and Gospel-driven that it led me to tears. This wasn't a sugar-coated or shallow Christianity he was espousing; Paul is the real deal, and seriously loves Jesus.
- Audrey Assad. Leading fellow Christians in worship is a truly difficult endeavor, yet Audrey was a fantastic guide with a beautiful voice. It was never a performance and always a prayer. The lyrics of her song "You Revive Me" were particularly appropriate:
- You revive me / You revive me Lord / And all my deserts are rivers of joy / You are the treasure I could not afford / So I'll spend myself till I'm empty and poor / All for You / You revive me Lord
- Matt Wilks. I went to Matt's workshop on cultivating relationships. He's one of those guys that is clearly brilliant, yet comes across as very approachable and laid back. He spoke with one hand in his pocket the entire time, just kinda calmly sharing insightful nuggets of ministry wisdom. He's co-leading a YMCP cohort in Canada this year, and I'm stoked to have a new friend in ministry.
- Mark Yaconelli. An author and spiritual director, Mark's talk on receiving the love of God and finding rest for one's soul was personally refreshing in this season of transition. Moving to a new country is stressful and exhausting because the immigration process is so complicated. I feel overwhelmed nearly every day, yet the Lord reminded me through Mark of His deep love for me no matter what. I got to meet Mark on the way to the airport and thanked him for his words of blessing.
- The fire alarm. The hotel fire alarm went off around 6:20 AM on Saturday morning. The hotel's inhabitants found themselves standing outside or in the lobby, dressed in a strange blend of pajamas and winter coats. It was certainly memorable, and my apologies to anyone I encountered that morning who may have found me anti-social.
If you went to the CYWC this year, what were the highlights for you? You can follow Youth Specialties Canada here.